To celebrate Mother’s Day, we always have some kind of adventure and this year was no different as we headed to San Francisco for the weekend to do some exploring. On Saturday we climbed stairs most of the day and did a lot of walking. We visited the Filbert Street Steps, the Greenwich Steps, the Lincoln Park Steps, the Hidden Garden Steps, and the Flights of Fancy Steps. We also visited Coit Tower, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.
Then on Sunday, we kept it a bit more low key and visited the San Francisco Zoo. The Zoo wasn’t in the plans originally, but on Saturday Brian and I both realized that we had never taken our kids to the San Francisco Zoo. I had been several times as a child and Brian and I even took the kids I nannied for when we first started dating… but Natalie and Carter had never been. I think we avoided the zoo because our memories of the zoo included empty animal enclosures and a rundown, old, in need of love landscape.
It has been about 15 years since our last visit to the San Francisco Zoo, so we decided to give it another chance and go again on Mother’s Day because we do really love animals and surprise, moms are free on Mother’s Day! Super cool.
Nestled against the Pacific Ocean, the 100 acre San Francisco Zoo And Gardens is home to over 2,000 exotic, endangered, and rescued animals representing more than 250 species, and beautiful, peaceful gardens full of native and foreign plants.
During our visit, we saw majestic giraffes, powerful gorillas eating and playing together, funny howler monkeys making all sorts of noise, bears swimming, penguins playing in the water, and silly prairie dogs running around, and a snow leopard rip apart and eat a rabbit! We also saw flamingos, meerkats, zebras, kudu, ostriches, lions, turtles, lizards, and lemurs.
We also had a chance to relax and take snack breaks in the themed gardens, featuring native California flowers and plants, African plants, and Dune plants — and we found a few dinosaurs in the prehistoric plant garden.
While there were still what seemed like a lot of empty animal exhibits and parts of the zoo still look like they’re under construction, we had a blast wandering through the zoo and gardens and we got real lucky, because while some animals were sleeping, many were awake and playful and really entertaining. Our visit was a solid half day adventure, although if my kids were younger, we would have been there at least a few more hours to explore the petting zoo and play in the playground.
Rides And Activities At The San Francisco Zoo
While the main draw at the San Francisco Zoo And Gardens is the animals, there are many other fun things to do on your visit, like learning about conservation, taking a class, relaxing in the gardens, listening to a zookeeper talk, exploring the petting zoo, and taking a ride. There are two rides at the zoo and you can purchase individual tickets or an unlimited ride pass for $14.00:
Little Puffer Miniature Steam Train
The historic 1904 Little Puffer Miniature Steam Train is pushing 100 years in operation and is one of only three remaining 22-inch gauge engines left in the world. Tickets are $6.00/person.
We pretty much do every train ride at every place we visit and we all were impressed with the San Francisco Zoo train! The ride loops the large track, passing through a tunnel and by animal enclosures two-times and it moves pretty fast! Whether you have kids or not, this is a super fun ride.
The historic, menagerie-style, restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel is a unique merry-go-round that delights kids of all ages as they choose to ride a horse, a cat, a pig, a rabbit, or even a giraffe. Tickets are $4.00/person.
For $3.00, pick up a new plastic animal Zoo Key along with your park tickets. As you walk through the Zoo, you’ll discover interactive Storybook boxes at many of the exhibits and enclosures where you can insert your Zoo Key and turn it to unlock multilingual recordings of stories and fun facts about the animals.
Elinor Friend Playground
Free with Zoo admission is the awesome Elinor Friend Playground that your kids are going to want to play on for hours — fair warning. The playground is split into three sections, each representing distinct bio-regions and ecosystems, and each aimed at a different age group:
- The River Play Area is for toddlers (6 months to 2 years)
- The Polar Zone exploration space is for preschoolers (2-5 years)
- The Banyan Tree climbing structure is for older children (5-12 years)
- The San Francisco Zoo And Gardens is located at Sloat Boulevard and Great Highway, San Francisco, California 94132.
- Download the Zoo Map.
- Open 365 days a year from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and last admission is one hour before closing time; last member admission is 30 minutes before closing time. Children ages 14 years old and under must be accompanied by an adult while on Zoo grounds.
- See more than 2,000 exotic, endangered, and rescued animals and gardens full of native and foreign plants.
- Save time, skip the long ticket line, and buy your San Francisco Zoo tickets online. Simply print your tickets or show them on your phone at the entrance gatehouse.
- While San Francisco residents get a discount, public admission fees are $20.00/adult 15-64, $17.00/Seniors 65+, $14.00/children 4-14, and children 3 and under are free.
- You must pay to park in the lot at the zoo. It costs $10 on weekdays and $12 on weekends and holidays. Don’t want to pay for parking? Park along Sloat Boulevard for free and walk in — it is only a 5 minute walk.
- There are five Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Stations in the parking lot — three Tesla only towers and two universal charging towers.
- Travel to the Zoo on Muni and receive a $1.00 discount on your admission ticket (same day). Within San Francisco, take the Muni L Taraval line outbound to the Zoo. Also, Muni bus lines 23 and 18 stop at the Zoo.
- There are multiple restaurants at the zoo with options like hot dogs and hamburgers, salads, sandwiches, soups, Asian specialties, healthy snacks, and vegetarian choices. Snack and beverage carts are also stationed around the Zoo.
- For $3.00, pick up a Zoo Key to use in the Talking Storybooks! Your kids will love turning the key to learn facts and hear stories about the zoo animals.
- For $6.00/person (children under 3 are free with an adult), ride the Little Puffer Miniature Steam Train on two speedy loops through the zoo. A special passenger car on the Little Puffer miniature steam train is designed to hold a wheelchair.
- For $4.00/person you can ride the 1921 Dentzel Carousel. Adults can ride free alongside a ticketed child.
- Unlimited ride wristbands are available for $14/person.
- There are three new, huge, themed playgrounds for children that are awesome.
Near the playgrounds, you’ll also find a snack bar and picnic tables, a collection of animal sculptures perfect for little ones to play on, and convenient restrooms. It’s the perfect place to wrap up your zoo visit and wear your kids out before nap time or the ride home. Natalie and Carter were in awe of this play area and totally wished they were little again so they could go play too!